What next in Afghanistan from Pakistan’s perspective

Published: June 3, 2011
The writer was foreign secretary from 1994-97 and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran (1992-94) and the US (1990-91)

The writer was foreign secretary from 1994-97 and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran (1992-94) and the US (1990-91)

Today, with the Bin Laden killing, the PNS Mehran attack and the spate of other terrorist attacks by a Frankenstein monster that we have ourselves created, our security establishment is in disarray and hard put to explain to its own people, and indeed to the world, where Pakistan is headed. We can still hope that some hard decisions will be made to set our internal house in order (more about this in a subsequent article). This preoccupation with our internal situation and our limited capacity notwithstanding, we do need, however, to think also of the situation in the region and about Afghanistan which lies at the root of our internal problems. 

Serious thinking is particularly needed with regard to the endgame in Afghanistan. The Joint Pakistan-Afghanistan Commission and the ‘core group’ defined as the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the two groupings in which we are supposed to play a part in supporting the ‘Afghan-led reconciliation process’. Let us assume that the Americans, anxious to pull out the bulk of their troops by 2014, will agree to a reconciliation that gives the Taliban a share of power in the centre and a dominant administrative role in the south and east of the country. They will also use their influence to prevent the Tajiks and other ethnic minorities from playing a spoiler’s role. We, on our part, will influence the Quetta Shura of Mullah Omar and the Haqqani group to go along with such reconciliation. We will also hold out assurances to Iran and Afghanistan’s other neighbours that we will not seek to dictate policies to Kabul in return for assurances that they, too, will refrain from doing so.

Clearly all this is a tall order but should it be achieved, what would it mean? Let me list some of the things that will need to be thought about.

Today, the Afghan economy is a war economy. The GDP of the country is $14-15 billion. The US military is spending $14 billion a year in construction and other activity within Afghanistan. Even assuming that much of this is spent on consultancies and raw material, it can be estimated that some $4 billion of this amount generates Afghan income, which becomes part of the GDP. Similarly, the US military and civilian structure within Afghanistan spends some $2-3 billion on transportation of the goods that the US forces consume. This, probably, again adds up to a $1-1.5 billion addition to Afghanistan’s GDP. Lastly, the US and its allies are paying the salaries of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). This amounts to at least about $3 billion a year for the force that by the end of this year will be more than 300,000 strong and which by 2014 will be 400,000 strong. While some of these figures may need to be adjusted downwards, there should be no doubt that more than 60 per cent of Afghanistan’s GDP is being derived from foreign forces and their activities. It can be assumed that for a few years the US and its allies will financially support the ANSF, but certainly the economic assistance they provide will not make up for what the Afghan economy is deriving today from the presence of the foreign forces.

So, in these circumstances, when the economic downturn comes, where will the Afghan unemployed turn but to the traditional sanctuary — Pakistan. This will also mean that for many years to come there will be little chance of sending back to Afghanistan the five million (my estimate) registered and unregistered Afghans — and the Afghan holders of fraudulent Pakistan documents — that are now sheltering in Pakistan.

When the Haqqani group is given a measure of administrative control of Paktia, Paktika and Khost, as envisaged in the reconciliation, do we believe that they will give up their stronghold in North Waziristan? If not, then should we assume that we will make permanent the current situation where the Pakistan government’s writ in the area is non-existent?

When the ANSF has reached its maximum size of 400,000 and money is not available to maintain a force of this size on salaries that are completely out of line with what the ordinary Afghan is earning, it will have to justify its existence by espousing belligerently a national cause. Is there a cause other than Pakhtunistan? When American financing runs out, to which outside donor will this force look for support?

One of our goals in facilitating reconciliation in Afghanistan would be to get recognition of the Durand Line or, at least, an agreement to control cross-border trafficking in humans and goods by introducing biometric controls on our border and eliminating the current $5 billion-plus smuggling of goods across the border? Would we achieve this? Will we stop being the route by which 33 per cent of Afghan opium is marketed?

With peace in Afghanistan, our strategic location will start paying dividends starting first and foremost with the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline. Have we looked at the figures for the construction of this pipeline or are we accepting unquestioningly the figure of $7 billion plus for a 1,000-mile pipeline when the cost of constructing a pipeline of similar size runs at less than $2 billion in the United States? Have we decided how this pipeline will be owned and operated? This can yield transit fees and meet our fuel requirements but will this not require also an opening of our land routes for trade in other goods and services between Central Asia and South Asia? Are we ready for this?

Afghanistan is rich in mineral resources but is Pakistan well placed to help exploit them and, if so, in what time frame? Let us not entertain unrealistic dreams about this.

These are only some of the questions on which we should focus and to which we should seek answers both in the two groups that are working on reconciliation and in the Bonn Conference scheduled for December this year. Our economic planners who know full well the costs that the presence of Afghan refugees and the unbridled smuggling and drug trafficking is imposing on Pakistan should take the lead rather than our military for whom these ‘mundane’ concerns matter little in the face of what they perceive as the security imperative.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • faraz
    Jun 3, 2011 - 1:48AM

    Militant groups offer no solution to pushtoon nationalism. Militant ideology transcends all boundaries. We can prevent FATA from becoming a part of Pushtoonistan or Islamic Emirate of Talibanistan by integrating FATA into the mainstream. He must establish writ over those areas, expel all foreigners, abolish the FCR, and provide free education and health. We must treat tribals as first class citizens and not some wild creatures who can be used as strategic assets. Gradually, the people of FATA will fully integrate with rest of Pakistan instead of the Pushtoon tribes of Afghanistan. Recommend

  • Abdul Halim
    Jun 3, 2011 - 6:02AM

    The author of this article is talking nonsense, he and many Pakistanis have the assumption that Afghanistan is there backyard. Foreign aide will dry up but will the mineral resources that Afghanistan has dry up as well? I don’t think so. Why not talk about how Pakistan’s economy is in shackles and about to fall apart any minute without the help or aide that is provided by the U.S and IMF. Why would Afghanistan let Pakistan exploit Afghanistan’s resources when Pakistan is doing nothing in terms of providing help. What help has Pakistan provided to Afghanistan and be honest, was it the help of making millions of Afghans become refugees while you guys supported and actually made the warlords who destroyed Afghanistan? Afghanistan’s economy is one of the fastest growing economy in the region even without the U.S aide. Where is Afghanistan going to sustain such a big army? Well from the transit fees of the TAPI which your going to pay Afghanistan. Also from the mineral resources which will be exploited by china, india and western nations. Since America will stay beyond 2014 in Afghanistan, they will make sure you Pakistanis don’t turn Afghanistan into Al-Qaeda ground. Recommend

  • mazen
    Jun 3, 2011 - 1:23PM

    very gud article on the aftermath of endgame in afghanistan……
    1.what would be the future of pak afghan relations.
    It solely depends on how america and her allies leave afghanistan.If.however.all the forces accomplish cement reconcialtion then what would be the guarantee that all the concerned forces fulfill their part of promises and will not eat their words back.
    Likelihood of the eruption of violance cant be ignored after the departure of us from afghanistan,but it depends what kind of govt is in power in both these countries and how pakistan perceive indias role in afghanistan,,,,,In my opinion indo-pak-afg talk should be held without americas assistance.Pakistan already realised that without peaceful afghanistan pakistan will not rise.Recommend

  • Aryabhat
    Jun 3, 2011 - 1:51PM

    “This can yield transit fees and meet our fuel requirements but will this not require also an opening of our land routes for trade in other goods and services between Central Asia and South Asia? Are we ready for this?”

    As this benefits ordinary Paksitanis and improves their lifestyle – why not Sir?

    Why Paksitan must always remain a “spoiler” state? Even when it is against its own benefits?Recommend

  • Mansoor
    Jun 3, 2011 - 4:19PM

    @Abdul Halim:

    Mr Halim – have you forgotten who had made the Afghans refugees? Have you forgotten about the war when Russia attacked Afghanistan? It is actually Pakistan who has immensely suffered due to the influx of refugees and still reeling.
    Always talk with facts! It is always easy to make things up in order to respond to an article, but one should not desert his or her sanity. I hope this helps!Recommend

  • observer
    Jun 4, 2011 - 12:15PM


    Always talk with facts!

    Mansoor, that is an excellent advice to give, but it is even better to follow. Just consider,

    A.Isn’ it a fact that the Russians were ‘invited’ to Afghanistan by the then Afghan government. Are you aware of the role of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Pakistan in this episode? Do you still believe the entire blame lies with the Russians?

    B. Do you know the facts about, how much money was pumped in by Saudi Arabia and US, in the Afghan war? And do you how much of this was skimmed off by Pakistani agencies monopolising the distribuyion?

    C. Can you also tell me the facts and figures of, how much of ‘development aid’ was given to the Taliban government in Kabul by the three countries that had recognised them?

    D. And isn’t it a fact that, Pakistan gained nuclear power and ‘strategic depth’ largely because of the peculiar dynamics of the Afghan war? And isn’t Pakistan a net beneficiary of the entire episode?

    E And, finally, isn’t it a fact that the present mess is on account of Pakistani idea of ‘strategic depth’ and ‘terror as an instrument of state policy’? . Recommend

  • observer
    Jun 4, 2011 - 12:26PM


    This can yield transit fees and meet our fuel requirements but will this not require also an opening of our land routes for trade in other goods and services between Central Asia and South Asia? Are we ready for this?

    Well.the guardians of the ideological boundaries have already ruled out ‘prosperity at the cost of security’. Does that answer your question?Recommend

  • Mansoor
    Jun 6, 2011 - 4:08AM

    Yes, this is better. Here we go:

    1] Yes, we cannot levy the entire blame on Russians. However, this is an absolute fact that Russian army did cross their borders into Afghanistan. Can we deny this? No one in this world is so gullible that merely on someone’s invitation they commit a heinous crime unless they have an axe to grind or have a particular interest. Is this not a fact that millions of innocent Afghan people were made to leave their homeland and take refuge in Pakistan & Iran? Even if we believe or agree that the Afghan government itself invited Russia to occupy their land, then was that a correct decision? Did it have the backing of its people? Certainly not – therefore an uncertainity in the region was created by Russia’s action. One of the implications on the Pakistani side was an increase in the availability of arms and ammunition (it used to be classified as Klashenkoff culture – it came into Pakistan after the Afghan war). I do agree that the role of Pakistan should have been better but we shouldn’t forget that Pakistan was reacting to a newly created situation.

    2] Yes, as per the media reports a lot of money was pumped in by these countries – I don’t know the exact amount, therefore I don’t try to distort the facts by giving my own projections. If you have a reliable figure which can be validated then let us know.

    3] So what? This is a common practice even now – lot of countries give aid to other countries?

    4] Pakistan nuclear programme started back in 1975 as per the media reports. This was more in relation to threat from India rather than the Afghan war (I think). Don’t agree that Pakistan was the beneficiary (actually lost more due to massive influx of people without proper checks and controls).

    5] Yes, Pakistan is partly responsible for the current mess but you cannot exonerate big players like USA either. Take an example: If Osama was responsible for killing innocent people in USA then he or his associate deserved the due punishment not the entire countries or massive populations (have we obtained justice for thousands of innocent people who died in USA or have killed millions more innocent in poor countries?). Was there a case registered against Osama in the International court of justice and his arrest warrants issued? Are you 100% sure that appropriate evidence (which can be tried in a court of law) was collected against Osama? If it was then it should have been tried in a court of law? Don’t you believe or agree that USA should have distinguished between Al-Qaeeda and Taliban right from the begining rather treating them as one (it might have ended the war quickly) – they are doing it now (apparently – that is talking to Taliban) – Did George Bush try all the diplomatic channels to indict Osama in a court of law and his associates before formally attacking Afghanistan? Has the war achieved all its objectives? I do agree that Pakistan’s role has not been very good due to lack of a visionary government at the centre and at provinces, but believe me it is not all due to Pakistan. I can write tons more on this but don’t have time at present (may be at other time Inshallah).Recommend

  • tariq
    Jun 6, 2011 - 6:47PM

    Good questions have been raised by the author . They are to be answered by the government of Pakistan.NO HARM IN IT TO UNDERSTAND THEM AND RESPOND THEM. WE IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD NEED TO UNDERSTAND COOLLY NOT TO REACT HARSHLY.Recommend

  • nazarrabi
    Jun 8, 2011 - 12:26PM

    we pashtuns are victims of geography we are surrounded by the enemy within pashtuns those are the nations who are surrounded us they would never recognIse the pashtuns intrest some of them wants us to be part of afghanistan and speak farsi, and then of course pakistan the urdu speakers want us to be part of pakistan educate our children in urdu, the westerners wants us to learn the english language then you have those use islam want us to learn arabic, pashtuns are confused people they dont know what there intrest is what is education education is not english or urdu or farsi or arabic language unless the pashtuns recognise there own mother language on there own land they will never suceed we dont want to be part of any country we should recognise ourselves, pashtunsitan not taliban northwestfrontier khansab khaber pathan or anything else simple pashtuns which is our mother languageRecommend

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