From Kabul, with love

Published: November 18, 2014
The writer is a barrister and columnist. He tweets 

The writer is a barrister and columnist. He tweets @AsadRahim

He wanted it to be like France and Germany, he said. Or he tweeted as much: “10yrs from now, v want to be n a France-Germany type of relationship with Pakistan.”

For 140 characters, it was a lot to digest. “A France-Germany type of relationship”: Merkel and Hollande smiling at each other, issuing joint postage stamps, commemorating their 50th as Europe’s original odd couple. There are hiccups, yes — France continues to turn its nose up at austerity. Germany, far and away the EU’s severest son, tells the French to get in line.

And yet, for two nations that have bled each other since time began, this is progress. So tightly have Berlin and Paris embraced each other, bad economies are tolerable (and war impossible).

“Europeans have a special view of German-French relations,” Mr Hollande said recently. “When we get along, they are afraid it will be to their detriment. And when we do not get along, they realise then that it is to their detriment.” Might we say the same for our part of the world?

Might we agree, as Ashraf Ghani does, to that sort of relationship?

Cynics on both sides wondered who the Germans were. Realists asked for a comparison that didn’t bring up some of the worst wars in memory — Napoleon flicking away the Prussians; Hitler dancing in front of the Eiffel Tower.

One may look to the idealists instead. Whatever Mr Ghani’s intentions were, he’s made a statement: big, brave, and audacious — the stuff relationship resets are made of.

Nor that both parties have grasped as much. What we’re seeing on our screens would have been unimaginable months back: the GHQ providing the President of Afghanistan a full guard of honour; a visibly genial handshake with PM Sharif. Taking a break from taking a break, even Mamnoon Hussain was made to speak whole sentences in light of the occasion.

Not to be missed is the personal warmth between Mr Sharif and Mr Ghani because, on one level, our leaders are already as suited to each other as the Germans and French… if around the World Wars.

It’s hard to forget the car-crash of a relationship between General Musharraf and Hamid Karzai, all glaring and pouting respectively. The general once called Karzai an ostrich, appropriately at a dinner in his honour. As for Karzai, he displayed the sort of emotional consistency one associates with a mild drug problem (and the UN’s Peter Galbraith said as much in public).

To go darker, there’s the surreal conversation between General Zia and Comrade Taraki in Paghman, on the exact lines the holy war would be waged. “In our new system, individuals do not matter,” Taraki had said. “They can be changed or replaced. It is the Party which counts.” Countered General Zia, “As Muslims, we believe that all land belongs to Almighty Allah, and man is His custodian on earth.”

“All land belongs to the tiller,” Taraki deadpanned. It was a conversation that took 10 years to end; the jihad never did.

Compare this to the sweet sounds the two states made the past week — Messrs Sharif and Ghani watching Afghanistan ‘A’ wallop Pakistan ‘A’ in a cricket friendly — and it seems the past can be put to bed.

Mr Ghani thinks so. Along with the snappy sound bite (“We will not permit the past to destroy the future”), Mr Ghani has also brought a vision for tomorrow. At the Pak-Afghan trade and investment forum, he spoke with the economic fluency of an ex-World Banker: backing firm property rights, turning money into capital, lamenting the import-export ratio, and fleshing out financial instruments to facilitate cross-border trade. The Pakistani business community, he has stressed not once nor twice, requires bringing in from the cold.

The Pakistani business community, for its part, has welcomed Mr Ghani just by dint of his not being Mr Karzai. More importantly, he also isn’t Abdullah Abdullah, a bullet we dodged in September. A Massoud man, Mr Abdullah — for obvious reasons — detests Islamabad, and the feeling is mutual.

But aren’t those the same sounds his predecessor made, our usual righties ask? And hasn’t Islamabad always talked up peace, the Afghans say, and sowed the exact opposite over the border?

No and no. Mr Ghani’s unprecedented words are matched only by the Pakistan Army’s unprecedented action: Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been clearing the region harder and heavier than any that has come before.

Begged to do it for years and years, the army’s change in chief has meant a change in resolve: Pakistan is draining the swamp in North Waziristan. That means ‘terrorists of all shades’. And while the JI & Friends warned of imminent doom if we did, fatalities have dropped a staggering 68 per cent. Remember those talks with Professor Ibrahim? Not the best idea, in retrospect.

But if Pakistan’s opened its fist, the president has reached out as well. As this goes to press, Mr Ghani has vowed to dismantle terrorist rat-holes on his side of the border, harbouring the likes of Fazlullah and company.

As a statesman, Mr Ghani isn’t perfect: his allies include everyone’s favourite warlord Abdur Rashid Dosum, whom the Fulbright scholar called “a killer” as late as 2009. But it’s not pushing it to say Pakistan and Afghanistan are striking a better chord with each other, as partners in peace, than they have in 13 years.

In his excellent book on the country (albeit slanted, if you will, against poor Pakistan), Peter Tomsen jots down a checklist for an ideal Afghanistan in 2020. Right at the top of the list, we read:

The blowback of terror has “convinced the Pakistani military to end its proxy war in Afghanistan”, and perhaps, theirs in ours, and that the two neighbours “have normalised their relations”. An American withdrawal is also mentioned as the fourth point — when it should have been the first. With Ashraf Ghani, all that seems much more possible.

It will take a while for us to look like France and Germany. But we should be thankful that, for the briefest of moments, we don’t look like Pakistan and Afghanistan either.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • MSS
    Nov 18, 2014 - 12:44AM

    Good write up. Let us hope Zarb-e-azm also works in Panjab and Mullah Omar does not succeed to get power back in AfghanistanRecommend

  • Shuaib
    Nov 18, 2014 - 4:36AM

    Amazing article!!! :)


  • Old Ravian
    Nov 18, 2014 - 10:48AM

    Brilliant, a treat of a read. Asad, you are amazing. Great analysis based on research. I always gain knowledge when I read your work. Wish other columnists could emulate you.


  • Gp65
    Nov 18, 2014 - 11:48AM

    “Begged to do it for years and years, the army’s change in chief has meant a change in resolve: Pakistan is draining the swamp in North Waziristan. That means ‘terrorists of all shades”

    Clearly not what Sartaj Aziz said.


  • Cynic Waheed
    Nov 18, 2014 - 2:54PM

    @GP65 – We will fight everyone who is a threat to us UNTIL India starts running its own strategic anti-Pakistan game in our backyard! If that is happening then I agree with Sartaj, why antoganize everyone? Solution is simple, India needs to get out of our back yard and stop creating more issues for us if they really want us to take action against everyone… And that my dear friend will NOT happen, because India think otherwise, so why should we burn our bridges? Common sense dictates, if this is such a big issue for Indians and then they need to understand our prespective and help us help you – dont make our lives more difficult then what it already is..



  • Bewildered
    Nov 18, 2014 - 4:36PM


    “Clearly not what Sartaj Aziz said.”

    As if he is in control of policy now? How come when it suits you Indians, you always blame Pak Army for making the policy, and as now it suits you otherwise, you just ignored what you people have been crying since ages.


  • Komal S
    Nov 18, 2014 - 9:55PM

    @Bewildered: We should be the bewildered one! Are you saying Sartaz Aziz your NSA has no clue as to what Pakistani policy is?


  • Komal S
    Nov 18, 2014 - 10:18PM

    @Cynic Waheed:
    I am quite shocked at this victim mentality attitude. For decades now your country has been nurturing anti-india elements. No terrorists cross into Pakistan from the Indian borders. On the Afghan side, i thought your country nursed the Afghan Talibans and one of the few countries in the planet to have formal relationship in the 90s. Scary part is your country keeps going back to the age old tactics to get international attention. It sees a need to control Afganistan and also would like to reduce India influence, so say outrageous stuff about India’s intention and put some pressure to curtail India. Unfortunately this won’t work anymore. Also do not take for granted the good intentions of the current Afghan President. He is genuinely trying to rope in pakistan to fight the terrorists targeting his country, in fact your NSA was in those meetings. For him in just a couple of days to contradict that is a real shame.


  • Gp65
    Nov 19, 2014 - 12:13AM

    ET Mods – please allow response to people who has written to me.


    we definitely expect that civilian government is aware of what the policy is. I am not assuming that Sartaj controls policy, simply that he knows what is going on.

    @Cynic Waheed:

    India has had historic links with Afghanistan and Afghanistan being a sovereign country wants to maintain such links particularly when India is helping it to build roads, schools, election infrastructure etc. india will maintain its presence in Afghanistan to the extent that it will not allow Pakistan to impose its proxies there and use that. That is India’s interest to secure itself. The notion that India supports TTP is absurd because it was Pak istani plicitians (Ch. Issar, Imran Khan, Munawwar Hasan) who were furious when TTP chief Hakeemullah was killed. No one in India complained. It. Was Pakistan government which had signed Nizam-e-Adl with Mulla Fazlullah in 2009, not India. When the Swat operation started, it was Imran Khan who was opposing it, not India. There were multiple all parties resolution to negotiate with TTP passed – not in India but in Pakistan.

    So India is not causing you trouble but it will support Afghanistan in maintaining its independence. That is a win win situation for Afghanistan and Pakistan.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Nov 19, 2014 - 1:44AM

    2nd revised version;

    The author unfortunately, has tried to coat his narrative in satirical sweetness, without even fully understanding the man from the North who has the Phd status in academia when he referred to France & Germany. The one trying to impress upon the other to accept its hegemonic influence while the other refusing it ending in two world wars. Both have since accepted the order of the European house making geographical boundries meaningless, but the economy having a single currency and common market. This is what the caucasian man was proposingquals emphasising on the concerns of Hamid Karzai, that on both sides of the boundry it is the Pashtuns who are being killed. Good relations as equals and neighbourly regardless of the size of the contrahands. it will be a shame if Nawaz Sharif and his military has not understood the statement of Afghan representative

    Rex Minor


  • Raj
    Nov 19, 2014 - 9:09AM

    @Rex Minor

    This piece wasn’t satirical.


  • Raj
    Nov 19, 2014 - 9:10AM

    @Rex Minor:
    This piece isn’t satirical.


    Nov 19, 2014 - 6:47PM

    First and foremost, we cannot afford to undermine our shared efforts against terrorism with conspiracy theories. The fact of the matter is that the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan have lost thousands of brave soldiers in fighting terrorism. Furthermore, our nations continue to make sacrifices for the sake of achieving our shared peace objectives. These meetings between the regional partners allow both nations to address their shared concerns and build on the improving relationship. It is simply in our best interests to remain unified against those who pose a risk to the safety of our nations. At the end of the day, we have come too far and made too many sacrifices to lose control of the situation. We greatly appreciate all of Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s sacrifices in our fight against terrorism, and hope to maintain a healthy working partnership for the betterment of the region. This is what RDML John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary, said last week: “The Pakistani people know well the threat of terrorism. They’ve suffered now from it for years. And the Pakistani military continues to take casualties as they go against terrorists inside their country. It’s very much an internal threat inside Pakistan. And we are mindful of that, which is one of the reasons why we’re grateful that the communication and coordination with the Pakistani military across that border continues, and it’s pretty healthy right now. But this is obviously a threat that the Pakistani people know all too well, and that’s also an indication of the continued terrorism threat that emanates from that part of the world.”

    Ali Khan
    Digital Engagement Team, USCENTCOM


  • Bewildered
    Nov 20, 2014 - 3:37PM

    @Komal S:

    Clearly you Indians don’t appreciate his knowledge when he talks about India’s support to Baloch separatists and TTP terrorists. As I said earlier you only take what suits you. Anyway, as pointed out yesterday by our ex-foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Mr. Aziz was just trying to sabotage General Reheel’s US visit. Everyone knows how much PML(N) dislikes his institution for not backing them unconditionally in the recent political crisis.


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