‘Everyone, including America, has burnt their fingers in Afghanistan’

Published: April 27, 2012
" The parliament
demands that the
foreigners leave but
who will ask them
to leave?,"
Author Riaz M Khan.

" The parliament demands that the foreigners leave but who will ask them to leave?," Author Riaz M Khan.


Pakistan needs to be pro-reconciliation when it comes to relations with Afghanistan. Continuation or any escalation of the conflict will only make things more difficult for it.

The views were expressed by Riaz Mohammad Khan, a former foreign secretary, who was speaking on Thursday at an event organised by the Oxford University Press to promote his book Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism and Resistance to Modernity, which was published in 2011.

Talking about his book, Khan said, he had tried to cover 30 years of the Afghan conflict, starting from the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the civil war to the rise of Taliban that he said led to a rise in militancy in Pakistan.  He said jihad in Afghanistan had served as a catalyst for ‘jihadi radicalisation’. He noted that radicalisation posed a threat to Pakistan’s aspirations for development.

He also discussed the concept of ‘modernity’. He defined it as a two-pronged term, which includes a “tolerance for plurality” and the “progression of humans”. He said that if societies follow models rooted in the past, a “disconnect” from the present occurs.

Khan stressed the need for Pakistan to determine where it wanted to take its relationship with the US – the “premium power”. “The US will leave Afghanistan not because Pakistan wants it to,” he said, but for its own interests. Khan said that the interests of Pakistan and the US had never converged. Also, he said, there was a great degree of “distrust at the operational level” on both sides. Despite the parliament demanding an end to the drone attacks and “asking the foreigners to leave”, Khan noted, the real question went unaddressed, “who will ask the foreigners to leave?”

Discussing the future, Khan said Pakistan needed to be pragmatic about its policy and needed to have clear goals. He also stressed the need for a “regional orientation” of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pakistan is important, both historically and geographically, he said adding that it could not be eclipsed by India. Khan also warned that political parties that claimed they could come up with the “right policy” in Afghanistan were mistaken. “Everyone, including America, has burnt their fingers in Afghanistan,” Khan said. Advising Pakistan to stop sponsoring Afghan Pashtuns, he said that any degree of tolerance for private militias was a “dangerous policy”.

His advice to the government was to “not push for a role” in the reconciliation process that he said was largely between the US and Afghanistan, even though Pakistan is a party.

(Read: Do foreign secretaries have brains?)

Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2012.

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